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Agriculture department says E. coli found on smuggled onions, not fit for consumption

The Department of Agriculture (DA) on Monday said the smuggled onions intercepted by authorities were not fit for consumption after they were found with traces of bacteria.

According to Dano Tingcungco’s report on “24 Oras”,  the government initially looked into re-selling the tons of smuggled produce through the Kadiwa stores but an examination showed that these had Escherichia coli or E.coli bacteria that causes pneumonia, respiratory tract infection, and diarrhea, among other diseases.

“[It's] not the proper storage for sibuyas noong nahuli. 'Pag nabubulok, eh alam mo naman hawa-hawa 'yan,” said DA Deputy Spokesperson Rex Estoperez.

([It's] not the proper storage for onions when we seized it. You know, when one of them goes bad, then it will spread. )

Estoperez also said there were also chemical and pesticide residues found on the products -- another reason the Agriculture department opted to bury the smuggled onions.

‘That's why we are...siguro pinapaalala lang natin sa ating mga kababayan na even though nakikita niyo ang sibuyas, puti, smuggled, hindi dumaan sa safety analysis,” he said.

(That’s why we are… reminding the public that although you see the onion is good, [if it is] smuggled then it did not undergo safety analysis.)

The agency is now preparing to file appropriate charges against the smugglers. It is also eyeing to register cold storage facilities to stop illegal importation in the country.

“Pwede kang i-subject sa inspection. Malalaman mo kung visitorial power mo so that you can have a real inventory,” said Estoperez.

(We can subject it to inspection. And you’ll know through visitorial powers if they have real inventory.)

Meanwhile, the price of onions in markets are still between P260 and P280 per kilo, the report said. To stabilize the price, farmers' group Samahang Industriya ng Agrikultura (SINAG) earlier called for the importation of red and white onions into the country.

However, some farmers said there should be a proper system for the importation for them to avoid losses, especially with the nearing harvest season that is from January to March next year.

“Kinakabahan na naman po 'yung mga magsasaka. Kasi po oras na umangkat 'yan, ang tatamaan niyan ay 'yung magsasaka,” said PESA Onion and Vegetable Farmers Association Chairperson Victor Layog.

(We are getting nervous because once we import, farmers will be affected.)

Import permits on onions have yet to be issued, according to Estoperez. He explained that the DA is waiting for over 3,500 metric tons of onions from off-season harvests coming from Central and Southern Luzon.

“Sa ngayon, pwede naman tayo makatawid sa Holiday Season. Onion is not a prime commodity naman pero syempre, pang sahog 'yan,” said Estoperez.

(Right now, we can pass through the Holiday Season. Onion is not a prime commodity  but, of course, we use it as an ingredient.) -- Sundy Locus/BAP, GMA Integrated News